You've finally come to the conclusion that it's time to buy a new pair of hiking boots. Maybe your beloved pair of well worn boots has seen their last hike, or you've decided to take hiking more seriously and are purchasing your very first pair. Either way, the decision is an exciting one. Prices for hiking boots range from $25 to $200+, depending on the style and type of boot you are looking for. The following tips provide a sensible guide as you venture into the sporting goods store to find that perfect pair.
It seems simple, but many people forget to bring the socks along that they typically hike in. Trying potential boots on with a thin running sock or a cotton dress sock might give you a completely different fit than with a thicker hiking sock. Most stores will provide socks for you to use, but ideally you'll have your own to get the most accurate idea of how the boots feel.
Test the boots vigorously.
It's not enough to simply take a few paces back and forth across the floor. Hiking boots need to provide support and comfort on a variety of terrain. Many a hiker will tell you horror stories about their blistered feet from new boots that didn't fit as well as they thought in the store. Higher end sporting goods stores will have a small "terrain area" specifically for this purpose. If you are making a more expensive hiking boot purchase, it would be preferable to find a store that provides this test area. It often includes simulated rocks, both large and small on a hilly terrain. You can see how the boots feel going up and downhill, and when walking on both large boulders and smaller rocks. Check to see that the sole holds firm when going over these rocks, and that the rocks aren't poking you uncomfortably through the sole. See how the soles grip the rocks and make sure your ankle feels well supported.
Don't forget the backpack.
If you plan to use these boots primarily for backpacking trips, be sure to load up with a backpack. Any store that sells hiking boots will sell backpacks. You can either bring your own or use one of theirs. Load it up with 25-35 lbs. and see how your boots hold up with this weight on your back. Are they still comfortable and providing solid support? Don't forget to try out all of the terrain with the backpack on your back.
Check the return policy.
Even with all of your thorough testing, you might get home and decide the boots aren't right for one reason or another. Some stores will allow the boots to be returned as long as they aren't worn outside. Others will give you a limited time to return them even after outside use. It's important to know the policy, and make sure to keep your receipt.
Wear them inside at home.
Once you get home, take as much time as you can to wear the boots with your hiking socks, inside the house. First of all, it will give you more time to decide if they fit right and don't cause blisters. It will also help you slowly break them in before your first big hike-a must if you want to avoid painful feet. If you keep them clean after all of this testing, you'll have time to decide if they are truly the right boots for you. If not, and you stay within the store's return policy, you should be able to return them without any problems.
Buying hiking boots isn't rocket science, but with a bit of time and perseverance, you should be able to find a pair that will last you through many a memorable hike.